Escape to freedom: The Molly Graham Story
by The Press and Standard | July 11, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: July 10, 2019 at 10:18 am
Over 150 years after a slave escaped through the swamps from Green Pond to Beaufort, Molly Graham’s descendants gathered to celebrate the dedication of a bridge in her memory on July 4.
Over 100 members of the Bryant-Pinckney-Singleton families, as well as visitors gathered in the field beside Wood Bros. Store in Green Pond in honor of their ancestor’s achievements.
The program opened with opening comments by Antoinette Kinsey, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Aden Caple-Kinloch. Edmond Singleton, Flossie Brown and Khalilah White also spoke, as well as other descendants who told the meaning of the family crest.
Guest presentations included S.C. Rep. Robert Brown, Al Jenkins of the office of Sen. Tim Scott and Lloyd Mickey Edwards, a 5th-generation descendant of Graham. The closing prayer was given by Elder James Bryant III.
Event organizer Prophetess Suhailah Beyah closed the event with the dedication of the bridge over the Ashepoo and unveiling of the sign.
Molly Graham’s story, as handed down through six generations:
The escape through the swamp
Molly Graham’s daughters, Sally, Sara and Effie, along with their uncle, Molly’s brother, were in the rice field, scaring birds from the rice crop, when they saw several Confederate soldiers on horseback, riding toward them. They immediately began running for their safety to the slave quarters to hide.
According to documented U.S. history, at the end of the Civil War era, the Confederate (Rebel) soldiers realized that as the Union soldiers advanced southward, they would free the slaves and enlist the male slaves to fight in the Union Army against their former slave masters in the Confederacy. So the Rebel soldiers began killing all male slaves, ahead of the Union Army’s arrival.
Knowing the dangers at hand, Sally, Sara, Effie and their uncle ran from the fields to the slave quarters to hide. Molly was already in the slave house making bread. Her brother ran into the barn and hid himself under some hay and straw.
The Rebel soldiers rode up to the slave quarters and confronted the children and Molly. One of the soldiers asked, “Where is that man who ran over here from the field, wearing a red jacket?” The children and Molly said that they did not see a man. One of the Rebel soldiers jumped down from his horse and pulled out his pistol, pressed the gun against Sally’s chest and told her, “Either you tell me where that red-jacket man is who ran from the field, or I’m going to blow you away right here!” After the little girl, Sally, continued to deny having seen a man, one of the ranking Rebel officers ordered the soldier with the pistol, “Put your gun away! Can’t you see that that little gal doesn’t know anything?” The officer then turned to Molly and told her that, “If you value your life and your children’s lives, you better leave here right now. This entire plantation is going to be burned down and everything that’s moving will be killed.” The Confederate officer then snatched a knit scarf off Molly’s shoulders, and the Rebel soldiers and officers rode off on their horses, looking for male slaves, who they intended to kill.
Molly’s husband and brother were eventually reported captured by Rebel soldiers, blind-folded and killed by firing squad at Cooks Hill, which is located near Bowman Lane in the Ritter area.
Realizing that she and her daughters were in grave danger, Molly took immediate action to preserve the lives of her family. She grabbed the bread that she had made, plus a jug of water, and she and her three young daughters (the oldest, Sally, was around 12-14 years old at the time) and set out on foot toward Beaufort.
They walked and ran by night, hiding and resting during the day. They often heard and saw groups of Rebel soldiers on horseback riding by as they hid in the underbrush. Like many other slaves, Molly had heard that the Yankee soldiers from the North had taken over Beaufort, and the Yankees would protect slaves who made it to the stronghold camps that the Union Army set up in Beaufort. So, despite facing natural perils in the darkened woods at night — harsh weather, venomous snakes and other wild animals — Molly and her three daughters persisted onward toward Beaufort.
The road to Beaufort – and safety – required crossing over the Combahee River Bridge. However, when she and her daughters reached the Combahee River, the bridge had been destroyed, leaving only a narrow plank that stretched across the river. Having no other alternative, Molly comforted her daughters and instructed them that they would have to crawl on their hands and knees across the raging river on a narrow plank — all that remained of the bombed bridge. Molly trusted and believed that God would protect her and her daughters.
After crawling across the Combahee River on the plank, the group continued its sojourn through the perilous woods. To get to the stronghold fort that the Union soldiers had established in Beaufort, Molly and her daughters had to travel some 16 miles, all on foot, hiding by day and walking and running at night. Despite the risk of getting caught by Confederate soldiers and the many adversities and natural dangers that they faced, Molly persevered until she and her daughters reached the banks of the inter-coastal waters at Fee Farm Landing, where she could then see the Union soldiers’ camp.
Upon seeing the Union’s Army’s fort, Molly and her daughters ran to a cleared area and began to yell for help. One of the Union Army’s officers heard their cries for help, looked across and saw them waiving and calling out for help. The officer commanded some of his troops, “Gather up the flat (raft)! That poor slave mother is over there along with her three daughters running for their lives. Gather up the flat (the raft) and go and get that mother and her three daughters!” The Union soldiers came across on the raft and brought Molly and her three daughters to safety.
Molly and her daughters stayed in Union Army’s camp at Fee Farm Landing in Beaufort for several months until the Civil War ended.
After the war
Following the Civil War, Molly and her daughters returned to Colleton County and settled in Green Pond. The daughters eventually married – Sally to Frank Bryant, Sarah to Jack Barnwell and Effie to April Singleton. Over the years, Molly and with her daughters’ families, worked together, pooled their money and acquired several hundred acres of land.
As former slaves, the only jobs that they could get paid only 15 cents per day. However, they also were entrepreneurs. They worked together, raising chickens, turkeys and vegetables on the farm, and they sold their products at the farmer’s market in Walterboro.
Sarah died when her only child, Louisa, was just one month old. Molly, who was a naturopathic herb doctor, prepared an herbal “moss tea,” which she drank in order to cause her breasts to produce milk. She then breast-fed Louisa and raised her as her own child. Louisa later married Joseph Pinckney.
Molly was a naturopathic herb doctor in the Green Pond community, dedicated to treating former slaves as well as former slave owners, without prejudice or malice. She developed a reputation for restoring patients to optimal health and for being used by God to be effective in treating conditions that baffled medical doctors. Molly even added sleeping rooms onto her home to house persons whose condition required an overnight stay. This was the first and only “hospital” ever developed in the Green Pond area.
According to accounts by elderly family members, Molly was widely sought for treatment. Some of the family’s elders recalled that it was quite common to see long lines of horse-drawn or ox-drawn wagons of both black and white people lining the roadway, waiting to be seen by the herb doctor.
Since fleeing Rebel soldiers and starting a farming business enterprise in the 1800s, the descendants of Molly continue to be blessed by God in many areas of life. Some are military officers, corporate executives, bankers, pastors, medical professionals, dentists, law enforcement officers, civic leaders, educators, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs, public officials and dedicated parents.
Molly’s descendants have also established a non-profit family foundation, and, given her rich legacy and ties to the history of the U.S. as well as the history of South Carolina, they are now attempting to develop a multi-use, historical preservation museum and park in the Green Pond area. The foundation will offer scholarships and promote historical preservation. The planned museum and park will house and display historical information and artifacts about black families in the South Carolina Lowcountry area. In addition, given her personal ties to the history of the Combahee River Bridge, Molly Graham’s descendants are endeavoring, also, to get that bridge re-named in her memory and honor.
In lasting tribute to how God delivered them to freedom, Molly Graham, her three daughters (Sally, Sarah and Effie) and Molly’s granddaughter, Louisa Pinckney (mother of Rosa P. Green and Carrie White), all chose to be buried at Hickory Hill Cemetery in Green Pond, which was the closest available burial site to the Combahee River and the area through which God delivered them to freedom.
About the story
This is a summary of the legacy of Molly Graham and her descendants, written by Henry L. Givens. This family history was passed down orally for years, over seven generations. However, the family history aligns with documented accounts in U.S. history during the climax of the Civil War era.
Molly Graham, a former slave on Cypress Plantation in Green Pond, told this account to her great-granddaughters, Kathleen (Bryant) McKinney and Bertha Lee (Bryant) Givens.
From her childhood, Bertha Lee (Bryant) Givens (now nearly 87 years old) remembered the history that her great-grandmother told to her and her sister, over and over again, when they were young children. Over the years, Bertha Lee, passed down the history to other family members. She and her cousin, Lou Ethel (Pinckney/Green) Singleton, shared this family history with their children, their siblings, nieces, nephews and other family members and friends at reunions and various family gatherings. This now documented summary of the historical legacy of Molly Graham and her descendants, has been passed down orally over many years.
For seven generations, family elders have passed down this history.